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Dick Zitzmann has been running Stan the Man Inc. for a long time now. He has seen the same scene again and again and again. Musial folds the dollar bill into a ring. Musial stops at a table in a restaurant and plays Happy Birthday on the harmonica. Musial reflexively hands out autographed cards to kids. Musial puts his hand on the shoulder of a teary-eyed fan and says, "No ... thank you!" He has seen it all so many times that he has to remind himself that this is not how superstars normally act.
"Stan loves people," Zitzmann says. "He wants you to be a friend. It really is amazing. When he signs an autograph, he is as happy as the person who is getting the autograph. That's the essence of Stan Musial. He is happy when he's around people."
Another Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Joe Black, told me a story once. We were sitting next to each other on a plane when, without provocation, he simply started telling the story, one he has told many times. He was pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals—this was 1952, his rookie year, his best year. Black had come out of the Negro leagues, and he was young, and he pitched fearlessly. He thought this happened the first time he faced the Cardinals; Black pitched three scoreless innings that day. But he wasn't entirely sure that was the day. What he remembered clearly, though, was the voice booming from the Cardinals' dugout while he was pitching to Musial.
"Don't worry, Stan," that someone from the Cardinals dugout had yelled. "With that dark background on the mound, you shouldn't haven't any problem hitting the ball."
Musial did not show any reaction at all. He never did when he hit. He simply spat on the ground and got into his famous peekaboo batting stance—the one that Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said "looked like a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming"—and he flied out. It was after the game, when Black was in the clubhouse, that he looked up and saw Stan Musial.
"I'm sorry that happened," Black remembered Musial whispering. "But don't you worry about it. You're a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games."
Yes, Joe Black told the story often—and it's a good story. But what I remember about the way he told it on the plane that day was how proud Black was to be connected to Musial. This is the common theme when people tell their Musial stories. No one tries to make Musial larger than life—he was only as large as life. He didn't make a show. He didn't make speeches. He didn't try to change the world. He just believed that every man had the right to be treated with dignity.
Musial believed in being a role model. He thought that was part of his job, part of why he was being paid so much money. He thought it was the least he could do. Musial smoked for a long time—he even advertised Chesterfields when he was young. But when he realized how he might be influencing kids, he quit the Chesterfield job and, shortly after that, quit smoking. In the interim he would smoke under stairwells so nobody would see him.
He would never allow photographers to snap him in the clubhouse without his shirt. Teammates and opponents say they would occasionally hear him swear, but certainly not where fans could hear him. The same goes with drinking—he might have had a couple here and there, but Stan Musial would never allow himself to be seen tipsy in public. He has been married to that high school sweetheart, Lil, for 70 years now.
In 1958 he became the first player in National League history to make $100,000 in a year. The next year he had his worst season—he hit only .255 and missed 40 games with nagging injuries. He went to Cardinals management and insisted they cut his salary by the maximum 20% (which the Cardinals did). Years later, when asked about that move, Musial said simply, "There wasn't anything noble about it. I had a lousy year. I didn't deserve the money."